Our modern day carols probably evolved from a tradition of pre-Christian sung fertility dances, which is believed to have survived up to the 14th Century in this country. The dances are believed to have been similar in format to the branle (pronounced brawl) - Old French circle dances and Breton - style Andro or processional line dances.
There are lurid tales of debauched revelry and huge processions dancing from town to town, often lead by a naked woman. These would almost certainly be connected to the Germano - Celtic rite of Yule on winter solstice, celebrated as Saturnalia by the Romans. The Wassails come from a distinct Anglo-Saxon tradition, also connected with fertility. "Waes Heil" means good health
Many of these versions are the work of Norman Iles, to whom I am indebted, for his lifetime's work in searching out and restoring these songs and many others to their original meaning and form. My work has merely been to try to create performable versions of these tunes and add to the growing, living folk tradition of which we are all a very important part.
Recorded at the Assembly Rooms, Glastonbury, November 1997.
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